|Gen. Denis Mercier, French Air Chief |
in front of a Rafale at Bangalore Aeroshow
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Only when more joint collaborations in the area of defence take place between India and France and the Rafale deal is signed, can the partnership between the two countries become a true companionship...
There was no scoop.
As Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Defence Minister arrived in Delhi for his second visit to India in 5 months, the Indian press speculated about the signature of the mega deal (over Rs 50,000 crore) for the supply of 126 French Rafale combat aircrafts to the Indian Air Force. It was not to be.
According to the Joint Statement, A.K. Antony and Le Drian had detailed discussions “on the current and future cooperation in the areas of defence equipment and technology collaboration”.
A French defence expert wrote on his blog: “Le Drian went to India to present the new White Paper on defence. [He is here] to sell Rafales? Everybody thought about it, but is not ‘official’; it is not the object of the visit. As a proof, the direction of Dassault is not on the trip: to each one, one’s job; though purchasing a fighter plane is fundamentally a political decision!”
Addressing India’s strategic elite at the IDSA, the French Minister clarified: “India has made the best choice. Obviously, I can’t say otherwise, but India’s will not regret it.” Explaining that many Indian companies will benefit from the offsets which are part of the contract, the minister added: “The aircraft will be given all the upgrades that technological progress will permit over the course of years”.
A long way has been walked since France ‘surrendered’ what the Minister prosaically called ‘French trading posts’ in India (i.e. French colonies) in a rather smooth way in 1954 (Le Drian nevertheless paid homage to the Pondicherians who fought and laid down their lives during the two World Wars).
India has also gone a long way since the days of its (in)famous non-alignment. Remember when General de Gaulle received Nehru in Paris on September 22, 1962, the Indian Prime minister mentioned the danger coming from China “which spent most of its resources for preparing the bomb”, but he did not ask the French President for help; India was ‘non-aligned’!
A month later, after the Chinese had inflicted on India its worst humiliation and Delhi had started begging Washington for material support, Ali Javar Jung, the Indian Ambassador to France met the General again, who conveyed what would be French core position for several decades: “France is the friend of India, not its ally, and therefore will not provide any military support which in any case, has not been requested by India.”
It is only in January 1998, during President Chirac’s visit to India, that the friendship took a new and deeper turn; India and France then set up a strategic partnership. The French President asserted that he was keen on an ‘ambitious partnership’; using a de Gaulle-like language, Chirac saluted India, “a nation which has affirmed its personality on the world stage. …France wanted to accompany India in its potent march towards the future.”
Chirac’s words were not mere political niceties. When India conducted its nuclear tests in Pokhran in May, France was one of the few countries which did not condemn Delhi (or impose sanctions). When Vajpayee paid a visit to France in October later that year, the Indian Prime Minister affirmed: “Both countries share a perspective that the new world order has to be a genuine multi-polar world order. Our bilateral relationship is poised to grow in the coming months in a multi-faceted manner.”
This set in motion closer and deeper contacts between the two countries. From the friendship mentioned by de Gaulle, the relation became a partnership.
At IDSA, the French Minister reflected on the exceptional trust between India and France: “fifteen years – that’s still adolescence. All indicators point to the Indo-French partnership growing further – in scope, in maturity, and in strength.”
Le Drian pointed out: “We share the same political vision. We share numerous common values: democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom, respect of fundamental rights and human rights. We are deeply attached to our national sovereignty and our strategic autonomy.”
Though the French Minister spoke about the French White Paper on Defence, he did not go into the nitty-gritty, particularly in the extremely difficult economic circumstances surrounding la Loi de Programmation militaire, in other words, the Defence Budget which will be ‘frozen’ for 3 years at today’s level (31.4 billion Euros per year). A slight increase is programmed for 2017-2019, “if the conditions permit”.
Between now and 2019, the White Paper mentions the suppression of 34,000 jobs in the French Defence establishment which employs 280.000 persons.
The White Paper defines France strategic choice, and most preeminently nuclear deterrence, which will not be directly touched by the ‘cuts’: “Two imperatives of sovereignty had to be reconciled: our strategic autonomy and our financial sovereignty,” explained Le Drian in Delhi. He asserted: “The framework of our action has a name: strategic autonomy. This is a permanent goal, which, in fact, we share with India.”
A new priority has recently emerged: cyber defence. Le Drian admitted: “We are endowing ourselves with technical intelligence capabilities in this field to identify the source of the attacks, assess the offensive capacities of the potential adversaries, and be capable of countering them.”
France, like India was slow to realize that cyberwar may be tomorrow’s war and that China and the United States are far in advance in this field. It however opens the door to new possible collaborations between France and India, “…cyberspace is now a full-fledged battleground. Information is methodically collected to make large-scale attacks possible in a situation of conflict. Attacks could paralyse entire sectors of a country’s activity or economy and lead to a disaster”, warned Le Drian.
‘Classical’ weapons were also discussed by the French Minister particularly the construction of six Scorpene submarines at the Mazagaon Docks shipyard in Mumbai, undertaken by the DCNS, a French company. Le Drian remarked: “In the near future, in MDL, India will possess a performing asset for eventually building additional submarines.”
Then the ‘refitting’ of 51 Mirage 2000 that India acquired under President Mitterrand in the 1980’s; on the second day of his visit, the Minister visited the Air Force Station in Gwalior where the upgrading is under process.
A let down was the Short Range Surface to Air Missile (SRSAM) project between DRDO and MBDA of France. For months, we were told that it was ‘like done’, but South Block keeps delaying the signature for one reason or another (or for no reasons).
Though both countries have agreed to ‘marshal their energies and talents to build a new missile’, an over-cautious MoD (and the broke MoF) seems to be taking its own sweet time.
Only if this type of joint collaborations takes place (and the Rafale deal signed), can the partnership become a true companionship.